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Buzz the Apiary

Bee Tip #1 - Watering Your Bees

 Do your honeybees gather around the bird bath in your yard during hot and humid weather and drown?

Hive water feederHere is a viable solution- give the bees their own internal watering trough and eliminate or reduce the possibility them bothering your birds or people near the birdbath. My wife was having difficulty trying to take pictures of the birds bathing because, the hotter the temperature the more my bees started using the feeder. Many bees drown while getting a drink, even with wire mesh around the bowl edge.

Add a hive entrance water feeder that can also double as a sugar syrup feeder when necessary. It is very inexpensive and works well in keeping the bees away from other water sources in your yard. In addition, think of the nurse bees who spend their first two weeks in the hive and rely on the foragers to bring them moisture. They will appreciate a fresh drink of water at the entrance, as will the other bees.

During three weeks of research, I tested two hives with this feeder design and found that the green 16 ounce soda bottles are best for this application:

  1. Green bottles are less susceptible to bacteria building up inside, versus clear plastic bottles.
  2. Slip the water feeder in one side of the entrance, the trough will keep it upright.
  3. Each hive will drink at different rates, based on the heat index inside and the first test indicated that a bottle will last up to 6 days before replenishing.
  4. Once the bees became accustomed to drinking at the hive they only visited the birdbaths.
  5. Subsequent tests showed that the average “change-out” time for fresh water is averaging 3-4 days and it only takes 5 minutes to remove, clean, refill, and replace each bottle.

Note: Avoid using 2-liter bottles, because there is too much head-pressure and the water will just run out of the bottle.

Honeybee Water Source

It is necessary for the beekeeper to ensure that a viable water source is available for their bees and there are several ways to accomplish this task:

  1. Locate the apiary with at least ¼ mile of a natural water source if possible. Remember, the typical honeybee foraging range is a 1.86 mile radius (about 10.8 sq. Miles) and these foragers must bring water back to the hive for the queen and nurse bees. This task may require them to  fly a double-duty of foraging and water carrying,
  2. If the apiary is located in an urban area be respective of your neighbors who may have swimming pools for several reasons; a) the pool attracts people and honeybees- not a good combination, b) some swimming pools may contain chemicals to prevent algae and bacteria from building up inside the pool- not a good thing for the honeybees, c) provide a birdbath or water feeder near the apiary to keep your honeybees out of local swimming pools.
  3. Another way to water your bees is to provide water “inside” or “near” the hive. Water inside the hive is this beekeeper’s preferred method, since the closest natural water source to ZBees Apiary is about 1/3 mile (as the bee flies). See Bee Tip #1 below for reasons and method.

After analyzing the water issue within the apiary I discovered this truth. Since the nurse bees do not leave the hive for about two weeks after hatching, and the queen only leaves to mate or swarm, then placing water in the hive was a logical solution because it frees up the foragers who only need to drink for themselves during foraging. Yes, it means the beekeeper must keep abreast of the water levels at the hive, but it also means the foragers may not have to make multiple trips to accomplish their tasks.

It became apparent while observing the hives for days and watching the foraging activity that the ratio of bees who brought back pollen and the  bees returning with empty pollen sacs was somewhere about fifty percent. This figure comes from the analysis of counting 400 bees retuning to the hive with a 30 minute period of time and only 190 - 200 bees carried pollen with them. In addition, it is difficult through observation alone to determine if the bees with empty pollen sacs are returning with any nectar or water. Although I cannot prove that the honeybees are bringing a combination of nectar, pollen, and water back to the hive at the same time, I can document that numerous bees do gather daily and drink at the hive when water is present. For this beekeeper, it means that if foragers may not have to bring water back to feed other bees and it allows them to focus more on their task, gathering nectar and pollen.

Providing water for your honeybees…

When honeybees started drowning in the backyard birdbath, I put some screen over the edge to help prevent this problem. It did not keep the foolish bees who still drank from the rim of the birdbath from falling in and drowning.